03/11/2011 07:28 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Green Sprouts in the Sidewalk?

It's really, really depressing to read the U.S. political news these days. Here's Kansas Senator Pat Roberts -- who represents Kansas City, where Ford makes its hybrid Escape -- blasting the compromise worked out two years ago between the auto industry, environmentalists, states, and the Obama administration to improve the fuel economy of American vehicles by 35 percent by 2016.

Beyond affecting the way people power their homes and businesses, the administration has even moved to regulate what cars Americans can drive.

This was made evident by the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's decision last year to begin mandating greater fuel economy and emissions standards for all passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks.

Recent analysis has estimated this new regulation will cost the already struggling automobile industry upwards of 10.8 billion dollars to comply, and consumers up to 985 dollars per vehicle in higher purchase prices.

Now Roberts knows, but ignores, the facts. Consumers were going to make more money on gas saved than they paid for the more-efficient cars -- even when gasoline was $2.61/gallon. Of course, with gas prices north of $4.00/gallon, the savings are even greater. The auto industry agreed to the compromise because it finally realized that, in a world of ever-scarcer cheap oil, fuel efficiency would be essential to save their markets. Just today, GM announced that will more than double the number of Chevy Volts it manufactures, adding a second shift to a plant in Hamtramck.

But the auto industry isn't the only segment of American industry that has decided to ignore the nonsense going on in Washington. Wal-Mart announced that it was not satisfied with the pace of federal regulation of the toxic flame retardant PBDE.  While the EPA has been working on a gradual phase-out, Wal-Mart simply decided to ban the chemical, a neurotoxin that the EPA says is "persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic to both humans and the environment."

The usual suspects complained -- the American Council on Science and Health sniped that "They've been at this for a while, trying to keep up with the Green movement... Sam Walton is probably turning over in his grave." (I have yet to find any evidence that Sam Walton ever went on record in favor of poisoning his customers -- seems a tad unlikely.)

And then there is Exelon's CEO, John Rowe, speaking out in DC with the unpardonable heresy, coming from one of the nation's biggest utility operators, that the EPA should be allowed to get on with the job of cleaning up utility pollution:

Now, one of the things I do want to see happen is EPA to be allowed to enforce the regulations it's evolving under the Clean Air Act.

EPA has been ordered by the courts to enforce the Clean Air Act. We at Exelon support their doing so. Like any other member of EEI, we might argue about any particular rule. We've never been in love with everything any government agency did yet and we'll doubtless find some fault in some of these.

But the thrust is that it's time to clean up the nation's energy fleet and it's time to enforce the existing law.

So not only are the sprouts of environmental reform vigorous but they are also breaking through the pavement in corporate America of all places. Big companies that for a long time hid behind Washington's failure to act are now getting out ahead -- because cleaning up their act is good business.

Yes, the political news is depressing. But America is moving anyway.